Review: Great Expectations at the Vaudeville Theatre
Dickens' novel Great Expectations is one of my favourites and as a result I approach any adaptation with low expectations. There is so much to be tripped up by in adapting such a rich and multi-layered story especially condensing it down into something play length.
It being Dickens there is also much that lends itself to a theatrical performance and here is where the decisions get tough. What do you leave out, what do you focus on and how theatrical do you make it?
This production has toured before arriving in the West End and boasts TV actors Jack Ellis, Chris Ellison and Paula Wilcox who all seem perfectly cast as Jaggers, Magwitch and Miss Haversham respectively.
The point of entry for the story is actually the end of the tale. A mature Pip (Paul Nivison) meets Estella (Grace Rowe) in Miss Haversham's dining room. The set is impressive - cobweb strewn, dilapidated with a large table (that doubles as smaller stage occasionally) complete with the infamous abandoned wedding cake.
Likewise the powder-white make-up which makes young Pip (Taylor Jay-Davies) look clown-like and I'm assuming is supposed to reference ghosts from Pip's past life. If not that then the point is lost on me.
A decision has been made to make the costumes of some of the characters look like they've come from a Tim Burton film or, as @vampiresoup suggested on Twitter Edward Gorey drawings. It gave certain scenes a pantomime feel which wasn't wholly satisfying and why did they all have to have a cobweb motif - we get it, they are from the past.
Wopsle (James Vaughan) and Mrs Joe (Isabella Joss) were comic villains and not in a good way. If I'm going to be picky Wopsle was played too posh for that character and the contrast between him and Mrs Joe just made their relationship inexplicable.
At times the script grates along pointing to characters and plot points like an invisible hand hovering over the stage while at others it skirts over particular details and if you aren't familiar with the story I'm not sure what you'd understand about what is going on.
It is the staging for me which made this production, there are some wonderful devices (Miss Haversham's demise is particularly impressive) and great use of a huge mirror on the wall offering clues as to the more subtle plots points.
But was it enough? At times Great Expectations felt like you were watching an am-dram production, at others it was just what you'd expect to see on a West End stage. My love of the book is its subtlety and the character arc of Pip and you aren't going to get that condensing it down to two hours for a big West End production. This feels like a show rather than a play and if you accept that then it is enjoyable enough.
Great Expectations runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until June 1. Shows in London kindly provided me with my ticket.
Jack Ellis was directed by Sam Mendes in Richard III and Mr W was directed by the same in Skyfall. Don't think I've had a director connection before.